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The play – and the umpire role – is under review

The baseball playoffs have shone a bright light on the benefits of video review to get plays right. How far will technology go as far as replacing human error when calling plays ... and even balls and strikes?
The baseball playoffs have shone a bright light on the benefits of video review to get plays right. How far will technology go as far as replacing human error when calling plays ... and even balls and strikes? - Richard MacKenzie

Penalty shots

The World Series starts tonight.

As far as the teams competing, it’s a repeat of a series played 102 years ago although, at that time, it was the Brooklyn Robins versus the Boston Red Sox. The Robins would, in subsequent years, become the Dodgers and Brooklyn would, eventually, become Los Angeles, as the team moved to the west coast before the start of the 1958 season.

Of note too is the fact that, although Fenway Park was home of the Red Sox all those years ago – opening in 1912 – the larger Braves Field was used by Boston in the 1916 series to accommodate more fans; so this will actually be the first Red Sox versus Dodgers World Series’ games at historic Fenway.

The key for both teams is to be at the top of their game, starting with first pitch tonight and carrying it through the series.

The third team on the field will also want to be on the top of their game. That team would be the umpires.

In a division playoff game between the Red Sox and New York Yankees earlier this post-season, veteran umpire Angel Hernandez certainly didn’t appear to have his ‘A’ game as he had three calls overturned by video review in four innings, while working first base at Yankee Stadium. A rough night for Hernandez and one, unfortunately, he’ll probably never escape since it happened on such a large stage.

And it begs the question; is Hernandez better off that video review reversed his bad calls and, at least, he knows he didn’t adversely affect the game, or does he wish it was 20 years ago – long before video reviews and broadcasting technology which can capture the most split-second, bang-bang plays? Maybe then, his off-night wouldn’t have been exposed as brightly as the lights of nearby Times Square.

Play is under review

I think video review is great for not only baseball but all sports which are using it; with the only downside being the extra time it takes to make rulings.

I see a day too where continued advancements in technology basically eliminates some jobs done by referees, umpires and other on-field officials; not because they do a bad job, or because of an off-night like Hernandez had, but because no matter how good an official is at his or her job, they can’t match the accuracy captured by slow-motion replays and increased computer technology.

I think the first job to go might be calling balls and strikes in the big leagues. Every television broadcast now has a pitch tracker; a computer generated box created for the strike zone and in proximity to the batter, which allows the broadcasters and viewers the see actual evidence a pitch caught part of the zone or not.

It wouldn’t be much of a leap to have the result of a pitch – ball, strike, foul, hit batter, excreta – as captured by the computerized strike zone, simply and immediately flashed on a screen visible to all.

No more this is a pitcher’s umpire, he has a big strike zone. Or, this guy squeezes the zone, patient hitters have an advantage. And a computer wouldn’t ‘give up on a pitch,’ be blocked by a catcher’s stance or fooled by a catcher’s ability to frame pitches. After all, shouldn’t the goal always be accuracy and consistency?

Again, I don’t think officials are doing a bad job and there needs to be a revolution in the way games are called, I just see the evolution of video review to a point where it’s not review anymore – it’s video officiating. The technology is going to be there, the logistics will be figured out and the public at least, if not those in the game, will demand it. 

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Of course, some of the human element will be lost but, in this continually digitalized world, you wonder if it will even be missed. It’s not like there are a lot of over-the-top arguments between baseball managers and umpires anymore where dirt is kicked around and caps are turned so they can go face-to-face more dramatically; there is the odd one here and there.

Former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was thrown out of seven games last season and only five in 2017; those totals would be a slow month for the likes of Earl Weaver and Billy Martin, back in the day.  

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